Last Tuesday, Anaheim public television aired a program that was over 6 hours long and as dramatic in the Days of Our Lives sense as in the professional wrestling sense. It was like one of those dystopian movies that starts off intriguing, gets really frustrating, and eventually ends up getting so dark that it puts you in a funk for the next few days. No, it wasn’t Requiem for a Dream. Nor was it 1984 (though it did bear some resemblance). If you haven’t guessed it yet, the spectacle in question was none other than an Anaheim City Council meeting: where the day-to-day lives of citizens are subject to the political beliefs, personal vendettas, and private interests of seven city officials. This meeting in particular proved that members of the community who appear en masse to voice their concerns may quite literally be ignored.
In attendance were members of a senior mobile home park who’ve been faced with an unexpected rent increase and residents of a neighborhood who are fighting against a high-density, high-income housing development that would further congest their already overcrowded streets. Public speakers from both of these groups passionately called for direct communication from council members. Members of the latter community held signs that read “Please Come Meet Us” and “Residents First” in response to Councilwoman Lucille Kring questioning the legitimacy of signatures on the petition they presented at last week’s public hearing about the development.
At that same public hearing, representatives from this neighborhood were ordered by Mayor Harry Sidhu to cut their 10 minute presentation down to 2 minutes while the developer was given a virtually unlimited amount of time to push their case. As a result, the council voted to approve the development and this week’s meeting was the final opportunity for the community to dispute that decision.
One speaker from the public voiced his discontent with that hearing. “This council majority seems to think that any developer has a God-given right to whatever modifications he might want for whatever fool[ish] project he dreams up,” he said. “This council majority seems to think of the regulations and zonings that exist to protect the quality of life of your voters and residents as just some inconvenience that can be shoved aside when some friend of yours sees a chance for profit.” Throughout the night, these feelings of despondency were ever-present. Some speakers admitted that they hadn’t even prepared a speech because they expected their allotted time to be cut short once again.
However, community members remained resilient and proposed that the council postpone their final decision until they’ve had a chance to visit the neighborhood and speak to some of the residents themselves. “The ordinance is up again to be voted [on] a second time today. We’re not here to dispute. All we ask is that you listen to us,” explained Angelica Mejia, who lives in the neighborhood. “We’re not opposing housing in our neighborhood, we just want affordable housing. The developer said that he’s not here for affordable housing. We need housing in Anaheim, but we need affordable housing. Please meet with us,” she implored.
Many other heartfelt requests to postpone the vote followed, including some from council members Jose Moreno and Denise Barnes. “If we’re gonna vote for something that isn’t in our community, the least we can do is go out, take ten minutes, [and] knock on doors,” said Barnes to her colleagues. “That’s the least we can do. So can we please postpone this? Have a heart. Show your commitment, on the council, that we are for our residents.”
But alas, no such empathy was to be found as the ordinance was passed with a 4-2 vote. Although the rest of the council was clearly ready to move along to the next issue on the agenda, Moreno took a moment to express his disappointment. “I’m sorry colleagues, I’m just appalled. Residents simply asked for a pause button,” he said. “This was an opportunity to say, ‘We can at least give you the benefit of the doubt,’ instead of just allowing folks to believe that your vote somehow isn’t taking [the residents] into account.”
This was met with the same stoicism that the council majority maintained throughout the entirety of the meeting. Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who seems like he probably spent most of his time at college playing beer pong in an upside-down visor and a puka shell necklace before haphazardly declaring himself an expert on Laissez-Faire economics, simply responded that “This particular project has gone through the process. There have been many steps along the way. We just happen to be at the last one.”
Be that as it may, as Angelica Mejia pointed out, “The developer had 15 months to speak to you guys and plan this. We had very little notice.” Furthermore, the “process” that Barnes is referring to did not take into account the lives of the citizens who will be affected by this ordinance. The citizens of Anaheim have asked for government-imposed rent control. They’ve asked to have a say in the rezoning of their own neighborhoods. They’ve argued that a lack of affordable housing and unexpected raises in rent are two of the main contributors to Orange County’s ongoing homeless crisis.
“You’re putting our senior citizens in the street! You’re putting hardworking people in the street!” exclaimed Anaheim resident, Kenneth Batiste. “People, we need to get this straight: we need rent control. We need to put it on the ballot. If we keep going like this, our homeless [population] will double, triple, and quadruple. We need to do better.”